Friday, 9 October 2009

A Lesson Learned

I helped rescue a kitten yesterday afternoon. I was waiting for my husband when I heard it yowling. It was so loud, my first thought was that children must be teasing it; there is an elementary school nearby and kids were everywhere, having just gotten out of class. When I looked out the window, I could see children running back and forth to an air-conditioning unit outside, calling out excitedly. But when I went down to investigate, I saw that the children weren't tormenting it at all: they were trying to free it.

"Poor little thing!" one thuggish great boy with a strong London accent said. He and a friend were trying to move the air-conditioning unit out of the way to get at it. It wasn't easy: it was in front of a strip of paneling that was screwed in. Behind the paneling was a metal vent about half a foot long with a tiny gap where the kitten had probably gotten in.

"It's been in there for a long time!" the boy told me.

"How long?"

He screwed up his face. "Maybe two days. Nobody can get it out. It's scared, like."

"How'd it get in there?" I asked.

A little girl shook her head. "Maybe someone was trying to play with it," she said shyly. Another little boy joined us. He said something in Turkish and the Londoner translated. "Maybe it was trying to get away. Maybe it thought somebody was going to hurt it."

I fumbled around in my bag for a nail file. "Can someone help me move the air-conditioning unit? Maybe we can get this paneling off."

Three little boys immediately volunteered their services. With their help (and a little interference) I managed to get two screws out, but it was impossible to get purchase on the others. Fortunately, they were all rusty and fairly loose: the big boy with the London accent managed to pull the paneling off and another dragged the air-conditioning unit right back, revealing the tiny gap the kitten had managed to squeeze into.

A mother who had come to collect her kids watched us surreptitiously, a look of deep suspicion on her face as we pulled the paneling out of the way. I did my best to ignore her.

"Your arms are long," another little boy said. "Maybe you can reach it."

I did manage to get my hand through the gap, but when I tried to pull the kitten out, it hissed and spat. All I could see of the kitten was its whiskers, and -- occasionally -- its tail.

My long-suffering husband had shown up by this point. "They've told the janitorial staff about the kitten," he said. "Someone's going to come along and see to it later."

I wasn't buying this. I know our janitorial staff and their idea of 'later': I'd spent two hours in a hot classroom, sweating it out with twenty-six miserable kids. The janitors had been told that our air-conditioner didn't work. They were going to see to that 'later' too.

After a long day of teaching, my husband was tired and hungry and sorely in need of a beer, but he knows me. When I told him I would stay until the kitten was freed, he sighed a long sigh. "I'll stay with you."

Fortunately, my husband had his mobile phone with him and unlike mine, it still had credit on it. I called the Kyrenia Animal Rescue. This is a group of wonderful people who spend their free time caring for stray cats and dogs. They get them inoculated, arrange for them to be spayed or neutered, and sometimes pull them down from trees -- or out of holes. The woman who answered the phone agreed to come help. She told us she would be there within twenty minutes.

While we waited, one of the well-wishers crowding around, a fellow teacher, told us about a wounded bird she had rescued from her classroom window. She had managed to catch it, take it to the vet, nurse it back to health, and release it, whole and healthy again. The children around us all listened, wide-eyed.

When the animal rescue woman showed up -- with cat box, gardening gloves, and a bag of cat food -- we all practically cheered.

By this time a modest audience had gathered. We all watched as the woman put on an old shirt, crouched in the dusty narrow space in front of the hole, and tried to urge the kitten out. It took ages; I was amazed by the woman's patience.

At one point, I didn't think it was going to happen. I was tired, hungry and thirsty too; I'd been on my feet since eight in the morning and all I wanted to do was sit down with a tall drink and a book. And then all of a sudden, the kitten was out, a feisty, blue-eyed little bundle of tiger-striped fur. We all cheered as the rescue woman popped it into the cat carrier.

The story doesn't have a traditional happy ending: the kitten was adopted by a kindly colleague, but he cried so much and so loudly at night, she had to let him out, and then she couldn't find him again. She showed up at work tired and stressed after racing around, looking for it.

But if I had it to do over again, I would do just the same thing. I was heartened by those children and their gentleness with the kitten; I was touched by our fellow teacher who had spent so long over what everyone else scoffed was "just a bird"; I was grateful that my colleague had tried to give the kitten a good home. Not every story has a happy ending, but sometimes that itself is a lesson too.


Angela said...

And you know what--those kids will never forget their role in rescuing that kitten. They will know that if they hadn't heard it and worked to free it, it would have likely died.

Give yourself a pat on the back you wonderful example and role model, you!!

Bish Denham said...

I agree with Angela, it was a wonderful object lesson for the kids.

Charles Gramlich said...

A great story, and so refreshing to hear of humans being humans.

Kim Ayres said...

At the point of trying to make a difference, we don't know whether the ending will be happy or not. But it's the trying that's important at that time in that place. It's this that marks out who we are.

And in this case, the kids will remember it forever :)

MG Higgins said...

Even without the traditional happy ending, it's a heartwarming story. And who knows, maybe that little kitten is out and about touching other people's lives.

Postman said...

Well, you tried, at least. And it gave some people some entertainment for a while, and it gave the animal rescue crew something to do. When I was in Korea I was out for my morning walk and I saw little white rabbit being chased by a stray cat. I chased off the cat with a few well-judged rocks, picked up the bunny, and noticed its back leg was swinging like a loose chandelier. So I took it to the vet, and the leg had to be amputated (costing me the equivalent of $150). But I found a good home for the rabbit with my two British coworkers.

My point? Well, I gained absolutely nothing. I wasted about four hours of my day, blew $150 on a rabbit I'd never even seen before, and didn't keep it as a pet. But I wouldn't have done it any other way, not even given the chance to do it over again. What I did get out of the experience was the satisfaction of a good deed done. You can take comfort in that, too.

Vijaya said...

Of course you'd do the same, Mary. What matters is we do the right thing NOW.

Anne Spollen said...

Great role model for the kids. Everyone remembers people who did great things like that. It's so nice that this time it's you!

Mary Witzl said...

Angela -- You are so right, and that is exactly the point I wanted to make. I was really impressed that the kids were so keen to help us free the kitten, and the fact that none of them were trying to hurt it heartened me. I've seen people treating animals badly here, so when I saw the kids flocking around the place where the kitten was trapped, trying to help it, I was so happy.

Bish -- Thank you. Really, we were good role models for each other.

Charles -- Thank you -- I feel the same. Nothing moves me more than seeing people behaving gently to people and other animals.

Kim -- We would never do anything if we tried to figure out what the consequences might be. All we can do is try our best to do right, even if it doesn't always achieve the result we want.

Eldest Daughter always remembers the time her lovely first grade teacher, Ishibiki-sensei, caught a cockroach in her bare hands and flicked it out the window. To this day that incident has stayed with her. (It has stayed with me too, though perhaps in a different way...)

MG -- I just pray it isn't keeping everybody awake, mewing its head off (it has the most amazingly carrying voice). And I REALLY hope it won't end up in that crack again!

Postman -- That could have been my cat you chased off, except that she was never in South Korea. More than one time I had to lob pine cones at her to get her to stop chasing some rodent or rabbit.

That is a great story. I would have a hard time walking away from an injured rabbit myself. And good for you, finding a home for the rabbit AND supporting your local vet. I've helped fill a lot of veterinarian's coffers myself.

Vijaya -- If I'd gone home without doing anything, I'd have felt horrible all night. So in a way, I did this for myself.

AnneS -- It was actually fun to have this adventure with a group of kids. I hope they'll remember me: I'll certainly remember them.

Helen said...

Yay Mary - you Wildlife Warrior you!! I do believe that most people, given the opportunity, are inherently good. Sometimes it takes a little fluffy creature for it to come out.

Falak said...

Its a great story and applies to everything we do in life... It is the 'trying' part of things that matter not the end result....

Sang said...

Two friends of mine adopted a kitten several weeks ago. His name is Bodhi.

He was rescued from an engine block and left at a vet's office in a box.

He's found a happy home.

I thought I'd throw in a happy ending for you :)

Robin said...

Yay! You're a feline hero! I'm telling the head of the Pennsylvania cats about this. Maybe they'll give you a medal or something.

Marian said...

This is so heartening to read. I thought of the news stories I've read about people torturing animals, setting them on fire and doing who knows what. We need a story of compassion and pulling-together to balance that out. Thank you, Mary!

Mary Witzl said...

Helen -- Thank you, but I have to tell you that I'm a wimpy wildlife warrior. My mother rescued dozens upon dozens of cats in her lifetime and my sisters are huge animal rescuers. They look at me and shake their heads, and with good reason: they do things like this all the time and never write about it.

Falak -- Thank God it isn't the end result we're held accountable for! I really do try my hardest, but sometimes the end result makes me blush.

Sang -- That is a happy ending. I do hope that our kitten-in-a-hole will find a happy ending too. Preferably in the home of someone who is stone deaf: she had a voice like a crow crossed with Ethel Merman, but louder.

Robin -- Hey, tell those cats in Pennsylvania to send the medal to my sisters -- or the Kyrenia Animal Rescue people, great cat rescuers who seldom even talk about what they do. Those Pennsylvania cats will be in awe!

Marian -- When I heard those kids outside, I was POSITIVE they were tormenting cats. The week before, I'd seen a couple of pre-teenage boys poking a dog with a stick, and I saw a woman telling her kids to kick a stray cat that only wanted to be petted. So when I saw what the kids were really doing, I felt hugely reassured -- and a little ashamed. They're my buddies now. Whenever they see me, they want to know what happened to the kitten.

Robert the Skeptic said...

It's often heart-warming to know what lengths people will go to in order to rescue animals. It says something profound about OUR species.

Cindy said...

Kudos to you! I could see myself doing the same in such a situation.:)

A Paperback Writer said...

Yes, but to those who scoffed at your rescuing a kitten, you could remind them that if you'd left it to die in the air conditioning unit, the problem might have effected the whole building.
Let's just hope the feisty little kitty is out snatching mice somewhere now.
I was amused at the name Kyrenia. I know it's an island somewhere near Cyprus, but I had a student named that for my first three years of teaching. (She had no Cypriot, Turkish, or Greek background, either. Her parents just liked the word.) It took me a couple of months to learn to pronounce her name correctly, since Cyprus is a long ways from Utah.

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- I like to think this is true. The British are a little ashamed of their image as a people who will go to great lengths for animals, but as far as I'm concerned, it's one of their more endearing characteristics. (They are also the nation that stopped the slave trade, lest anyone say that they don't care about people as much.) And it is said that even Hitler liked dogs as though that's a reason for all dog lovers to feel a little ashamed. I say that's one tiny little point for Hitler.

Cindy -- It cheers me up no end that the majority of people I've talked to say the same -- and I've seen so much kindness. Which is something for me to reflect on whenever I read one of those terrible articles about animals being tortured -- or see a group of boys poking a stray dog with a stick.

APW -- That is so true: it is still summer here and hot right up until evening. A couple of people who saw us trying to get the kitten out nodded approvingly; one woman said, "If it dies in there, that kitten is going to stink to high heaven. We'll probably have to clear half the building." Gross but true, but that wasn't why the lady from Kyrenia Animal Rescue showed up.

Good grief, someone named their little girl Kyrenia and beat me to it? To think that my grandchildren won't be the only ones with that name!

laura said...

Perhaps the little stinker is intent on using up as many of its 9lives as it can! I understand where you're coming from though, and I wouldn't have left until that cat was out too.

Lily Cate said...

On not-quite-happy endings, I was driving to work very early one morning when a little dog ran out in front of the car ahead of me, followed quickly by another one. They were jogging around in the street, cheerful, but clearly lost, and in danger of getting hit or causing an accident. Cars were swerving to avoid them.

I pulled over, called them to the car (they came running with that classic "naughty dog" look) and they were lucky enough to be wearing tags.
The address was completely across town, but I drove them home first, hoping the owner would be around instead of dropping them off at the shelter, where you have to pay a fee to get your animal back.
The owner was home, and seemed totally annoyed that I bothered him. Didn't care that his little poodle-shizi-do or whatever was running in the street, and didn't even say a quick "thanks" for bringing them back.

They'll probably get out again. But that time, I did what I could to help out.

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, the Kyrenia I taught is now 33. I saw her two years ago. She's intelligent, educated, and independent.
She is the only person by that name I've ever taught.

adrienne said...

I love this story. I think most of the time, kids really do care and try to do the right thing.

Coincidentally, today I pulled over for a poodle that had gotten free of its owner and was gleefully tearing down the sidewalk and heading for the street. I made my daughter hop out the passenger side and grab it!

I've heard feral cats are tough to tame, but who knows - maybe your kitten will find the right home yet.

Mary Witzl said...

Laura -- Whatever that kitten wanted to do, it had quite a voice on it. I just hope it doesn't get back into that space: I don't relish having to do all that again.

Lily -- Poor you, but you definitely did the right thing. I've had the same thing happen myself: I took a dog back to his owner once and all he could do was complain that the dog was muddy. I was glad for the dog's sake -- but I was sorry for her too, having such a clueless person.

On the other hand, once a friend and I found a very tired, dirty cat and were about to take her to the police station (which is as close as our town in Scotland gets to humane society) when we met the owner on the street. I will have to write that story some time: it had a happy ending that was also a little sad.

APW -- If you see her again, make sure to tell her that she's named after an interesting place! We had Richard the Lionheart here and everything.

Adrienne -- Good for you and your daughter. So many people who visit this blog are animal lovers: it cheers me up.

One of my sisters has around two dozen feral and semi-feral cats that she tries to find homes for. It's very hard to do anything for feral cats other than feeding them and spaying them (if you're quick with a tranquilizing syringe first). But I have a lot of respect for the people who try to help them.

Jasmine said...

That is a very sweet story. Maybe the cat is in another tree, teaching some other people a lesson. :)

Charlie said...

There is no better feeling than helping a hurting animal, be it a trapped kitten or the little lizard I saved from drowning.

And I like to think that there are more animal helpers than people who shoot and kill merely for sport.